Debt by default: OSAP encouraging students to collect debt

University of Windsor students looking over semester budgets.

According to the Ontario government, 66.3 per cent of the University of Windsor’s students apply for OSAP each year, but not every student is granted loans to pay for post-secondary.

The percentage of students who are denied OSAP loans are mainly unqualified due to family income – even though the student may not get financial support from their parents. The Ontario Student Assistance Program also discourages those who save money before entering university.

“I was denied because of my relative high net worth value. The government saw it more fit for me to sell my assets (my stocks) and pay for tuition than to accumulate wealth in the time period that I have before interest rates kick in after graduation,” says third-year business student, Laurentiu Matei.

“I think the whole idea is flawed. I understand that the government wants students to pay back their loans as soon as possible but financially its counter productive.  Why would you not want the student to put his money away as soon as possible and grow it for the 4 years he’s at school through the markets and receives a decent return. But instead, they make you squandered it and struggle paying it after graduation and the interests rates make it worse.”

Matei says that working to pay tuition has hindered both his social life and grades: “I work a minimum of 30 hours a week to pay for tuition. This leaves a limited amount of time to study.”

Even for those who do qualify for OSAP find there are flaws within the system. The Ontario Student Assistance Program forces students to guess their future incomes – if they apply for bursaries or scholarships, that also affects the process.

“I get OSAP because I haven’t lived with my parents since 18, but I’m not allowed to make over a certain amount each year or they give me less. Last year I received a $1500 reward and they made me pay back all that money to OSAP to be eligible for this year,” says University of Windsor student, Amanda Emery.

Emery adds that her income is capped if she wants to keep receiving loans: “I’m worried about working too much this year so I’m doing 10 hours a week work study but that barely pays any bills. And I’m not going to lie my bill is now $52,000. I like OSAP as an idea but I find that it’s still geared towards keeping poorer students down and not helping students who don’t qualify because of their parents.”

According to the 2014-2017 Strategic Mandate Agreement for the University of Windsor, “The Ministry and the University agree to work collaboratively to achieve the common goal of financial sustainability and to ensure that Ontarians have access to a full range of affordable, high-quality postsecondary education options, now and in the future.”

Within the last year, students at the University of Windsor have been vocal about the rising tuition fees through on campus protests and campaigns.
Public data published in 2014 shows that the average four-year University student in Ontario racks up over $22,207 in debt by the end of their program. Ontario students currently pay the highest average of tuition in Canada.

(Stats Canada tuition fees 2016/2017)

There are some changes being made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program that is currently displayed on their website. Free tuition will be provided to students from low-income homes, and to mature students who have been out of high school since 2012.

Emery will be considered a mature student by next year – she is looking forward to the new changes. “The changes they are making are great, I’m hoping they will continue to accommodate more to students.”

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